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Monday, May 7, 2012

On the Eve of Election

Tomorrow, North Carolinians will go to the polls and weigh in on "Amendment One."  I understand there also some primary races for some people running for some offices, and that's all well and good, too.

This is being called the Marriage Amendment.  You can google the full text of the Amendment if you're not from North Carolina or if you are and really don't know anything about the thing.  I am voting against it, though the latest polls indicate that my vote will represent the minority of those who vote tomorrow.

I have been openly attacked and had my eternal standing with God called into question because of my views on this particular issue.  I have been accused of distorting the truth, of creating gray out of a black-and-white issue, and giving in to "cultural accommodation," "conforming to the world," etc. etc. etc.

What you are about to read will not be much of a surprise to those who have followed my thoughts on the matter for the last several weeks.  Nevertheless, I have tried to outline my feelings about this particular Amendment as a Christian, an American, a North Carolinian, and a student of history.

Rather than cherry-picking particular Scriptural passages, my thoughts on this are guided by the overarching themes that are found throughout the Bible, as God directs us how to interact with and treat each other.  The Bible has always enjoined people of faith to show particular kindness and care to orphans, widows, strangers, "aliens," and all manner of vulnerable people, remembering that we were once strangers in a strange land.  The Bible in general and Jesus in particular always shows preferential treatment for those on the margins of society.

So, who would be on the margins of our society?  Lesbians and gays, certainly.  Unmarried heterosexual couples.  The elderly and infirmed.  Children.  Victims of domestic violence and their children.  In one way or another, Amendment One has the potential to harm all of these groups.  Whether or not one supports gay marriage is actually a tangential issue; the real question is whether the risks to all these vulnerable and marginalized groups is worth it to codify something into our state constitution which is already on the books?  To me, it's not.

That being said, I actually think Amendment One is a very un-Christian piece of legislation, because of the hostility it codifies into our Constitution.  Amendment One reinforces laws that are already on the books (that proponents of the Amendment are worried about being turned over by "activist" judges, which is a bunch of hooey, if you ask me, ESPECIALLY because of the vague legal wording of the Amendment that will subject its interpretation and application to years of protracted battles in the court, opening it up to judges who are activist or not), but I believe the real point is to send a message to gays and lesbians.  That message is "By the way, we still don't like you, and we still don't think you're okay.  Nothing's really changed, we just want to make sure you know that we still don't like you."  Amendment One turns our state's constitution into a middle school cafeteria.

I also believe that marriage is a particular and sacred institution, but it is a religious matter, not a political one.  That the government is even involved in defining "marriage" is ludicrous to students of history.  Historically, the covenant of marriage as we understand it was recognized and blessed by the Church ONLY and the legal, contractual aspects are recognized by the state.  In a sense, every Christian marriage is both an affair of the Church (the marriage) and the government (more or less a civil union).  For instance, with every couple whose wedding I perform, I am always operating as an agent of the state (the legal part).  As you have seen, not every couple has a Christian wedding, and that's perfectly fine.  For Christian couples or those choosing a Christian wedding, I also act as an agent of the Church in solemnizing and consecrating the "marriage."

For my two cents, I think the government should only be involved in the civil union part.  Marriage is a unique and particular relationship that is just as much spiritual as temporal, and the government has no role in legislating matters of the Spirit.

In broad strokes, that's why I oppose the Amendment as a Christian.  I also oppose it as an American.  The preamble to our Constitution states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (it's close - I did get an "A" in 11th grade Social Studies).  I see Amendment One tearing at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for thousands of North Carolinians.

Further, I am a believer in small government and that the government is there to do for people only what they cannot do for themselves.  This is where I lose my liberal friends (who thought I was one of them) and confuse my conservative friends (who KNOW I'm not one of them!).  My belief on a document like a Constitution is that it should, in the broadest sense possible, solidify the relationship between government and people to give as much freedom to the individual as possible, without infringing on the rights of others.  I understand that the idea of non-heterosexual couples makes people uncomfortable, but nowhere are we guaranteed "the right to never be made uncomfortable."  Amendment One goes further in defining the relationship between a government and its people than should ever be enshrined in a state constitution.

From the foundation of what we would consider American society, religious freedom has always been at the center.  Indeed, many of the early colonists were fleeing religious tyranny and persecution in Europe; they were directly suffering because their beliefs and practices were not those of the majority and those in positions of power.  Principal in the founding documents of most American colonies was the protection of religious liberty for persons of all faith and non-faith.  There is something elegant and theologically true about our religious expressions being freely chosen rather than coerced.  The Christian faith insists that it all hinges on love of God and neighbor, and love must always be freely chosen and can never be coerced; otherwise, it is ingenuine.  And so, Christians help create the space where people can freely chose God; Amendment One is an attempt to impose a majority view of God on all, and it tears against the very fabric of religious liberty which was among our founding cornerstones.

There is a quote attributed to many people that says, more or less, that "the greatness of a Democratic society is shown in the care it shows its weakest and most vulnerable members."  I'm a bit embarrassed at our society if this is the care we will show our weakest and most vulnerable members.  Founding Father John Adams warned the fledging American democracy of the dangers of the "tyranny of the majority," in which he envisioned a scenario in which decisions made by a majority place its interests so far above those of an individual or minority group as to constitute active oppression, comparable to that of tyrants and despots.  Amendment One represents just such a tyranny, in my view.

One last point.  Religion and politics make strange bedfellows; perhaps that's why you're not supposed to talk about religion, politics, or sex at cocktail parties.  "When religious groups crawl into bed with the government and subject matters of faith to majority vote, they are putting their religion in peril. And, in the long run, they stand to lose much more than they gain.  The more we use government to arbitrate religious/social issues, the more likely we are to get burned.  In other words, relying on being in the majority to impose your social/religious views on others is a dangerous game. Sooner or later, you will no longer be in the majority" (Skip Foster, Publisher of the Shelby Star).  My Christian faith is too important to me to allow it to be subject to the whims of the masses, which might be on my side today, and against me tomorrow.

If you're still reading, those are my thoughts on why I am personally against the Amendment as an American, a student of history, as a North Carolinian, as a believer in limited government, and most importantly, as a Christian.  Tomorrow, I will go to the poll and vote AGAINST Amendment One.


  1. Thanks for addressing so many angles of this issue, AJ. Well said! Matt Smith


    1. Thou shall not judge...?

    2. Questionable? Yes. Truth that is able to withstand question.

  3. I would like to posit for your thoughts that perhaps, as a historically religious institution (albeit quasi-governmental during the several centuries of Church dominion, extortion and subjugation general society in western history), Marriage should be left to religious organizations COMPLETELY apart from any legal implications. By this I mean to say the state should not in any manner acknowledge marriage as a legal union but rather those who wish to be 'married' in the contemporary sense should have to acquire both, separately, a marriage *licence* and a legal civil union. In this way states can ignore religion and no religious questions would have to arise on the sacred congressional floors with regards to marriage. There would only remain one type of legal union and it would be fair for those who wish to partake.

    Additionally i would say that America was not truly founded by people who believed in religious freedom as much as freedom for those with similar beliefs. Furthermore, threatening people with an eternity suffering in hell sounds far worse than any human coercion i have come across (even water boarding!). I certainly agree that it is important to squelch the tyranny of christians in this country as has certainly emerged. Separating a religious marriage from a legal civil union would definitely be a step in the right direction.

  4. Thank You AJ for your time in addressing so adequately all the issues of Amendment One. I, too, wish folks could get beyond the "marriage between one man and one woman" aspect and see the dangers there for so many innocents. I voted "AGAINST" two weeks ago. Judi Bryant

  5. Here is an interesting question. How many times does JESUS talk about homosexuals? Or sex? Or marriage? Really? That few? much does JESUS talk about greed? Money? The unwillingness to see the hungry and poor and tend to them? The single-minded stiff-necked Pharisees who were only interested in extrapolating the "law" (read: bastardizing it) so they could hang onto their power base? Anyone? What's that you say? That is most of what JESUS talked about?? Hmmmm.....I wonder how we got so side-tracked. All these suffering and hungry children, all over the world, and where are so many "Christians" (read: followers of JESUS) pouring their energies? Might that not be what is truly an abomination?

  6. Thank you sir for helping me restore some of my faith in the United Methodist Church -- the denomination I grew up in and loved. As a man who happens to be gay and who has struggled with how to be a part of Christianity when it so often degrades me, I find your words so welcome and comforting.

  7. Thank you..How many times did Jesus go around changing laws..or creating them? Laws are a human condition as Christians we are called to love the spirit and heart in order to change the heart bring it light and be eternity minded. We defile our faith by using religion to define it.

  8. Read your Bible....1 man, 1 woman...adam & eve, not adam & steve or ella & eve...

    1. Read yours, START with the New Testament and pay particular attention when Jesus is purportedly quoted. Because if we are stuck with God as he is painted in the Old Testament we are ALL in deep, deep, unavoidable trouble!

  9. Well written, pastor!! I wish more people would stop hiding behind "religion" as an excuse to treat people poorly.

  10. I am not hiding behind religion, nor am i treating people poorly.. If anything i say offends you, then I'm sorry but I live my life by what the B-I-B-L-E states....1 Man & 1 Woman..I have friends/family that are gay/lesbian but i surely DO NOT agree with their life style but i love them dearly & would NEVER mistreat them because their life style. By me being a christian & living for Jesus Christ(our creator) i have to live by what his word says because he is the only way to HEAVEN & without heaven we'll live our eternity in HELL. God Loves everyone & thats what we're supposed to & with that being said, we're also put on this earth to worship him & live for him & by what his word says.

    Genesis 2:24..Therefore shall a MAN leave this father & mother, and shall cleave unto his WIFE: and they shall be 1 flesh.

    Leviticus 20:13..and if a MAN lie with MANKIND, as with WOMANKIND, both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    Genesis 1:27..So God Created man in his own image, in the image of
    God created he him, MALE & FEMALE created he them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.

    1. marriage is a union between man & woman,PERIOD!!!!no exceptions.

    2. You are free already to live your life that way but you are not free to legislate your beliefs and your preferences to extend to the entirety of the populace.

      If marriage equality is allowed, no one is going to force you to marry someone of the same-sex, no one is going to force you to attend a same-sex wedding, and no one is going to force you to publicly support a same-sex wedding. Your beliefs and your right to live your life as you see fit is not in danger.

      Marriage equality would allow me to live my life as I see fit, in accordance with my religious (yes, my religion accepts same-sex couples and marriage as a sacred union) beliefs and my values.

      So your marriage may be one man and one woman, period. Wonderful! I applaud your marriage and your right to have a marriage of one man and one woman.

      My marriage, on the other hand, is between two consenting women and I would like the right to have it recognized by the state and federal governments. Because I am just as much a citizen of this country as anyone else and my rights should not be put to a majority vote.

    3. Codifying bigotry is shameless and un-Christian. North Carolina, reconsider....

  11. I've stumbled upon your blog via Neely Stansell-Simspon's fb page. Well said, sir. I imagine Jesus is weeping over this amendment. And I imagine the same Jesus is still loving us ALL through this and will continue to do so until His vision of Shalom-on-Earth is made real. Until then, keep up the good work.

    Charles T Swan
    Houston, TX